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“Gendered Geographies in Lully’s Proserpine (1680)”

February 5, 2021 @ 4:15 pm


Mobility and displacement were integral to early European opera productions. But geographic mobility also characterized opera’s storytelling from the outset, as characters routinely moved between fictional settings in ways that mattered dramatically and, often, politically. My talk explores this fictional mobility in Lully and Quinault’s Proserpine (1680), a mythological tragédie en musique dramatizing the kidnapping and rape of Proserpina by Pluto, god of the underworld. Spectacle-oriented French audiences enjoyed characters’ movements between familiar settings and marvelous ones in mythological plots, and I have argued elsewhere that these transitions were a crucial element of the genre’s “imaginative geographies,” adapting Edward Said’s phrase. For the 1680 productions of Proserpine, Lully’s team located the opera’s action in pastoral and palatial settings that were familiar from life at court, and they organized the principals’ movements between these settings in ways that would have evoked, for noblewomen spectators, habitual experiences of sovereign power as gendered biopower. I will focus on two such experiences—being monitored as a sexed body and being vulnerable to dispossession or violence in patriarchal spaces—and conclude with some thoughts on the difference that gender makes in the genre’s imaginative geography.

Dr. Olivia Bloechl, The University of Pittsburgh

Olivia Bloechl is a music historian and cultural theorist with wide-ranging interests clustered in the early modern period (1500-1800) and the recent past. Her historical research and teaching emphasize European early music, French opera in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, early Atlantic colonialism, and racial representation in musical theater before 1800.  As a theorist, Bloechl enjoys thinking about the ethics and politics of musical practice, interaction, and reflection. Recurring themes in her work include problems of recognition and difference, vulnerability, justice, coloniality and postcoloniality, and inoperativity. In addition to ongoing work on opera, particularly in France, her current projects include a feminist study of vulnerability in music-making and listening. She is also involved in a longer-term collaborative project aimed at developing theory and protocols for global music history, with a personal focus on the early modern period.

Bloechl joined the Department of Music at the University of Pittsburgh in January, 2017, having previously taught at UCLA and Bucknell University. An alumna of Smith College, she received a Ph.D. in musicology at the University of Pennsylvania in 2002.

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February 5, 2021
4:15 pm
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